Wedding Rituals 'Round The World
And you thought Tiny Tim's nuptials were weird

Marriage is a universal institution. Just about every culture practices it in one form or another, from plain ol' monogamy to baroque variants of polyandry and polygamy. But no matter how widespread the practice, the actual process of tying the knot can be pretty strange. The quaint Jewish custom of the groom climaxing the wedding ceremony by stomping on a wineglass is just the tip of the iceberg.

See also...
... by John Marr
... in the Whoa! section
... from December 22, 1999

Weddings can be simple. The Hadza people of Tanzania are to be commended for their streamlined process. The man drops by after the woman's family has gone to sleep. If he's still there when the relatives wake up, they're married -- no fuss, no muss, no blood tests. It's even quicker in the Gambier Islands in French Polynesia. The couple dances for -- and with -- each other. Then they sneak off into the bushes for half an hour -- and the knot is tied.

Unfortunately, simplicity is the exception, not the rule. Most cultures go for far more elaborate, drawn-out affairs -- complete with betrothal parties, elaborate wedding ceremonies, and the inevitable post-wedding feast/reception. Especially confusing are the weddings of the Chagga people of Tanzania. Marriage isn't just a ceremony, but a long, drawn-out series of parties, feasts, and rituals, all of which are lubricated by copious quantities of beer. In fact, it's unclear just where in the process the couple actually gets married, probably because everyone's too drunk to care.

Many cultures place a high value on virginity -- Edo brides of Benin even get a cash bonus from their mothers if they make it intact to their wedding night! Post-wedding-night inspections of sheets for bloodstains are widespread. Gypsy families go so far as to "fly the flag" the morning after, displaying their daughter's (hopefully) bloodstained nightgown for all to see. Thus, in many places it is undoubtedly a good idea for brides with a cause for concern to pack a cackle bladder on the big night.

Western-style weddings are increasingly popular throughout the world. But odd, unusual, and distinctly local customs, heavy on oblique symbolism, are far from dead. During the traditional Madagascar ceremony, a cow is slaughtered and its blood is drunk by all present. In Bali, the priest files the bride and groom's teeth. In South Africa, families of the bride and groom take turns before the ceremony singing insulting hymns ("Your son is too poor to marry our daughter;" "You treat your daughter so badly, but now she will be treated like a queen") at each other. And in Burkina Faso, locals welcome a new bride from another village by spitting milk on her.

Perhaps the best wedding tradition (for the male guests, that is) used to be practiced on the Marquesas Islands in Polynesia. Marquesasian weddings are still colorful -- they end with the bride's relatives lying face down in a row in front of the happy couple who make their grand exit over this "human carpet." But back in the good old days, the not-so-blushing bride used to have sex with all the men present, saving the groom for last. Now that is a wedding to remember.

John Marr is the publisher of Murder Can Be Fun.